“Hi-Hi! How’s it going Mother? You can glow now? That’s cool! Can I glow someday, or is it a Queen thing?”
The Queen didn’t have time to spare to turn to the babbling child who had appeared beside her. She was deep in battle with a colossal Garralosh Spawn, far taller than she was and the wounds on both sides had piled up. The creature leered with both its jaws as the Queen lowered her body to build the energy in her legs.
It came again, that rumble that seemed to shake the world itself. There was hunger in it, the Queen could sense it. A vast hunger, appetite without end, and rage also. She had no idea what had driven the old monster to such anger but she cared little.
“Someone sounds upset! I wonder why? Not enough Biomass maybe? That always annoyed me. The Senior used to stuff Biomass into my face all the time! Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to talk for hours! The Senior really wanted me to grow up strong!” Vibrant nattered.
Somehow, the little soldier managed to dash back and forth as she battled at extreme speed, all whilst she talked at a constant, rapid speed. The Queen felt the faint beginnings of a headache. Distracted, she missed a dodge and a long armed swing from her opponent thundered into her side. Her mana enhanced carapace flared and sparks flew as the claws penetrated the energy and gouged into her side.
“Too slow! Gotta move faster than that, Mother!” Vibrant laughed as she dashed forward.
Before she could twitch an antennae, the smaller ant had appeared by the leg of her foe and latched on with her mandibles. She savaged the leg with all of her strength before she darted away and dodged a sweep of the monster’s tail.
She wasn’t going to fall for that again!
Seizing the moment, the Queen lunged forward and bulled her way into the face of the massive lizard. Knocked off balance the creature roared with both its mouths but the Queen feinted high before she bit low, her mandibles dug deep into the torso.
That rumble came again and every monster shivered as the air seemed to vibrate inside their lungs. Such a thing would terrify any normal creature, but the ants were indomitable. The aura released by the Queen pumped them full of energy and filled their hearts with thirst for battle. They continued to rush forward and tear into the enemy, their own wounds and safety a distant thought in their minds.
The battle raged before the eighth wall. The ants threw themselves at the Garralosh spawn and the remnants of the horde with reckless abandon and wounds mounted on both sides. Even with the flanking attack of the Shadow Beast pets, their superior teamwork, mage and healers, the ants were sustaining damage. Soldiers, scouts and more had begun to fall in increasing numbers but no backwards steps would be taken.
The Queen fought at the front throughout it all, tireless and without peer on the field, she threw herself into the more powerful Garralosh Spawn over and over again. Supported by her children she was able to lay many of them low, but they were many and she was but one. Even she began to flag as her wounds began to mount.
“The Queen’s started to struggle up there!” Advant shouted, “we need to get healers up there immediately!”
“What healers?!” Grant called back, exhausted, “almost all of them are recharging their glands and cores. We just have to get up there somehow!”
As the Queen battled and struggled, the ant’s ferocity rose to a fever pitch. Every time she was injured, it was as if the entire colony flinched before they hit back twice as hard. The core shapers themselves dared to rise out of the pitfalls and fight alongside their pets, mages poured out their mana, holding nothing in reserve. The fight became increasingly bloody on both sides.
“She’s coming!” the pheromone message smashed into Grant like a truck.
“What?!” she called back.
A scout raced up and down the line of battle as she repeated the same message again.
Grant froze for a moment. Her heart seemed to slow in her chest. The time had come. The white hot frenzy of the ants cooled as the message sank into their antennae and reality asserted itself.
“RETREAT! Back to the final wall if you want to live!”
Would the colony survive? Or would they perish here and now?
“Someone has to go tell the Queen….” she muttered.
But would the Queen retreat? Should she? If the Queen couldn’t fight off the beast, then none of them could.
This torpor felt different somehow. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. I tried to put my feelers on it but thinking is difficult, elusive. My awareness is washing to and fro, separate pieces that come together only to float apart once more. It’s hard to think.
Am I awake? Or is this a lucid dream?
Something is different.
Faint whispers tickle in the back of my mind. They creep up to my ears. Or antennae? I don’t know. Perhaps they speak straight into my thoughts? I don’t know. Strange whispers they are, indistinct and blurred, I can’t understand them fully. In some ways they are more like impulses or desires, but I feel that they are not my own. As time passes they become louder and there are more of them. They drag and pull at my skin. Or carapace? No. Deeper than that. A thousand tiny hooks that tug at my very soul.
I feel helpless to answer them. I’m adrift in a dark river, distant from my own body and unable to react. I’m changing. I can feel it. Even as the whispers grew louder and my body shifted at the edge of my awareness, something more fundamental was changing. This was evolution.
What did it mean to evolve? To change oneself in a physical sense? I had thought that was the case. Even as I float, half asleep, I can still tell that this is different. This is deeper. The longer it goes on, the more my mind wants to sink, to fall into the centre and stay there. Why move? When I move, things are destroyed. Better to be still and quiet.
Stop whispering to me. Stop pulling at me. I want to sleep.
But I can’t. The hooks are insistent. Each moment that passes they drag me a little further out of the river and closer to shore. A thousand hooks and a thousand voices, each with their own particular tug and tone. Over time my mind and my body come back together, to meet once more in the middle. The light came back to my eyes, so slowly.
I’m so hungry, yet, and it’s the strangest thing, on the inside, I feel so full. The whispers are louder now. Insistent and desperate. They need me, very much. They need me, and so I will go. The call alone is enough for me.
With great care, I lift a leg, then another, then another, until all six were positioned around me. Then I pushed, and the blood began to flow through my body once more. Mana sputtered to life inside my core and began to trickle out through my veins and then further, to seep into every fibre of me.
But still the whispers, still the hooks with their endless pull. It isn’t pain I feel, when they drag at my heart, but something far worse. I need to go to them.
I’m coming. I’m awake.